By Elizabeth Garbe, Senior Director, Government Relations and Public Policy at United Way of Salt Lake
After a difficult first two weeks of the 2019 General Session, we were able to end on a high note with most of our priority bills passing and getting funded. Here are the highlights on the big wins and losses this session. For a full view of what happened to the bills we followed, check out the final bill tracker.
Loss: Full Medicaid Expansion in Utah
The session began with our biggest loss with the passage of HB96 Medicaid Program Revisions. The bill made significant changes to Proposition 3 — a ballot measure passed by Utah voters in November to fully expand Medicaid. The good news is that starting April 1, people below 100% of the federal poverty level will have access to health insurance. Unfortunately, Utah will be spending a lot more money to cover fewer people.
This bill required the Department of Health to submit additional waivers to the federal government asking for permission to change the rules on how we implement the Medicaid program. When waivers are submitted there is a public comment period; we will be ready to submit our thoughts and ask you all to do so as well. What Utah’s Medicaid program will look like is still up in the air, but we will keep you updated as it moves forward. Learn more about Medicaid.
Win: Early Childhood Education
Our biggest wins were in early childhood education. Two of our top priority bills passed. In the final days of the session, the House and Senate were able to come to an agreement on the budget, funding many of the items we were advocating for.
SB166 School Readiness Amendments, which received its full funding request, will align all of the preschool bills we have advocated for over the years, and provide $12 million in ongoing funds for school, private, and home-based preschool programs that help children start kindergarten ready to learn. Learn more about the benefits of SB166.
HB47 Early Childhood Coordination Amendments also passed, which will help improve policy decision-making, alignment, and coordination of programs and services for children ages zero to six. Knowing that the first five years of a child’s life are critical to their long-term success, HB47 will help highlight what Utah does well, where the gaps are, and what changes need to be made to ensure every child has the chance to grow and thrive.
Win: College Access
On the other end of the pipeline, a huge win was the passage of HB260 Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program. Education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty and ensuring families are financially stable. HB260 will build a statewide pipeline to college access and completion for students who otherwise would not attend. This ground-breaking legislation creates opportunity and leverages existing resources. The bill was funded with $2 million in ongoing funds. While less than what we hoped for, it’s the beginning of what will prove to be an amazing program that benefits all of Utah. Learn more about the benefits of HB260.
Win: Funding for Mental Health Services for Students
Also funded and passed in the last days of the session was HB373 Student Support Amendments. This bill will infuse $26 million in ongoing funds to provide targeted mental health support and trauma-informed care to students in schools. This is a grant-based program that will require matching funds. Mental health services has long been a top identified need in the schools we work with.
Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation this legislative session. We will continue to keep you updated on what is happening during the interim. Remember to reach out to your legislators during the spring, summer, and fall so that you can be a key resource for them in 2020.
If you’d like to get involved in advocacy work with United Way of Salt Lake, visit uw.org/get-involved/advocate.